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I'm writing an application for a dissertation fellowship, which according to the application is "to a truly outstanding doctoral degree candidate in the last semester of residence".

I need to write a 'personal statement' which is only described as follows:

a statement of how the fellowship will facilitate the completion of the doctoral degree by May 2015

That's it. No other guidelines are given to describe how to write this personal statement.

My research is theoretical, and does not require the purchase of any special equipment other than pencil and eraser. Thus, my naïve, simplistic answer this question is:

"I need the money so I can pay for tuition long enough and buy enough food to keep my brain cells alive long enough to graduate".

Obviously, I know this is the worst possible way to answer this question. In all honesty, the way this fellowship describes how to write the personal statement is rather limited. Other than writing a more eloquent phrasing of "give me money so I can eat", I can't think of anything else to write in it.

What do personal statements generally contain for fellowships like this? Are they usually as limited as this? What other points can I bring out in this statement other than "I need to buy food and pay for school"?

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Your answer is over-simplistic. In reality, having money allows you to devote time to research as opposed to getting a job to earn the money so that you can eat and do (less) research. If you already have such support, then I do not see the point of applying. If it turns out that finishing this dissertation quickly and with fewer distractions advances science as well as your personal and professional goals, then applying seems reasonable.

I would write something along the lines of how the time to prepare and establish the results is precious, and that having such a fellowship will grant you that time. Also, while your expenses may be minimal, you may find that using some of the money to attend a conference or to facilitate discussions with colleagues will allow you to add more to your dissertation than you could otherwise.

This is just off the top of my head, and I've been outside the ivory tower for more than a decade. Certainly some of your colleagues off the Internet can also suggest some themes to use for this aspect of your application.

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What about those students who don't receive that fellowship? Do they drop out or do they work as Teaching Assistants in the department? If it's the latter, then just point out how you would like to spend your time doing research instead of preparing courses.

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